What to Do and See in Grand Rapids, Michigan: A Local’s Guide

I just got back from a weekend in Grand Rapids with my sisters and my mom. It was so refreshing, we shopped for hours, made our fall wreaths, shared gourmet appetizers, and saw the play Wicked (hiiiiighly recommend), which was every bit as good as I’ve heard.

My sister Mandy, is studying at Grand Valley State University and was our unofficial tour guide for the weekend. She knew exactly where to take us, how long it was going to take to get there, and nailed our dinner and brunch reservations! I asked her about what’s what in Grand Rapids: what to do, what to see, and what’s worth the drive. Check out her recommendations for your next trip to Grand Rapids!

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How long have you lived in Grand Rapids? About three and a half years.

Whats your favorite thing about living in Grand Rapids? I just feel like it’s a really active and busy city. Wednesday nights downtown are like a Friday night. There’s always something going on like Oktober Fest, Polish Heritage Festival, Art Prize… It’s so new, so clean, and so safe. I can walk downtown at a 11 o’clock at night and feel safe. It’s easy to get around, places are close together and you can walk. It’s also a really pretty city.

Do you have a favorite place for a hike? Probably, honestly, Grand Valley has ravines all around the campus and that’s my favorite just because its not far from where I am, and it’s challenging walking in and around the ravines.

Also Grand Haven has Rosy Mound which is beautiful. I know lots of people also like to go to Reeds Lake, but I haven’t had the chance to go yet.

Time for favorite spots! What is your favorite…. 

Oh my gosh! Okay.

Place for breakfast: Terra which is in Eastown. Eastown is a really cool part of Grand Rapids, that not a lot of people know about. It’s more of a local spot. Terra has an awesome menu with tons of vegan, dairy free, and gluten free options.

We went to Terra for brunch on Sunday! It was SO GOOD. They also gave my mom and sister free dessert for their birthdays, and even put “Happy Birthday Allie & Holly!” on the menu! 

For lunch: Core Life Eatery! It’s like chipotle style in that you walk up and customize what you want, but all the food is organic and from local farms in MI. And it’s not maxi-cali. They offer quinoa or rice bowls, or salads. It’s the best quality and it’s not a killer price.

Mandy took us here for lunch on Saturday! I was seriously BLOWN AWAY by this place. They had a huge menu, with a ton of healthy variety.  I felt so satisfied and energized after lunch. Not to mention the amazing lemonade selection which was my favorite! 

Place for dinner: Reserve Wine & Food, it has a cool atmosphere. It reminds me of a wine bar my boyfriend and I went to in Amesterdam. The menu rotates frequently, and offers really unique, gourmet food. The wine menu is large and of course the wine is really good.

Mandy took us to The Reserve on Saturday night, before we saw Wicked! We shared a cheese and charcuterie board, pork fat fries, apple salad, and the best fried brussel sprouts I’ve ever eaten! The menu was so unique, I wanted to order several more dishes! 

Mandy at her favorite place for dinner, The Reserve

Place for a drink: It’s a toss up between The Knickerbocker New Holland Brewery and the Grand Woods Lounge. The Knickerbocker is brand new, and it has this amazing outdoor patio with ivy everywhere. They have heat lamps and picnic tables for outdoor dining. The Grand Woods Lounge is decorated knotty pine style or cabin style with antler chandeliers. It’s really cool.

Place for dessert: Le Bon Macaroon is my favorite, they serve really great macaroons, of course, but also coffee. They have unique things like lavender lattes.

Best Shopping: Tanger Outlets in Byron Center is the best place to go shopping, hands down 100%.

Mandy took us to Tanger Outlets on Friday, and I agree! It’s an outlet mall, with brand names like Columbia, Guess, and Sperry. My sister walked out of Sperry with two new pairs of shoes and a bikini for less than $50.  I scored two Guess dresses for less than $50.

What’s the latest in Grand Rapids? Any new places that you have heard good things about, but have yet to visit?  I haven’t done this yet, but there is a thing called “beer passports”. Go to the welcome center and if you go to 8 different breweries, you get a t-shirt that says “I conquered beer city”.

Other places that are still on my list are Brewery Vivant, which is a new brewery thats in an old church with stained glass windows. Electric Cheetah is a restaurant, it’s not new, but I’m dying to go there.

The ExperienceGR website is really good for all the latest events and it’s updated frequently. If you’re visiting the city, definitely check it out.

Is there anywhere to go for live music?

Yes! Tons of options. The Van Andel Arena has concerts a lot, they do get big names like Christ Stapelton and I think Katy Perry even. 20 Monroe Live and The Intersection are other concert venues.

But tons of bars offer live music, too, like Trail Point Brewery in Allendale, or The Bob. And Mojos downtown has dualing pianos.

What museums in the city are worth the visit? The Grand Rapids Art Museum is so beautiful, it’s actually a wedding venue.  Plus the museum is free. The Grand Rapids Public Museum has a children’s museum in it, and a carosoul that’s over looking the Grand River which is cool. The Gerald R Ford is right across the street from the public museum, but I’ve never been.

Is Art Prize worth the visit? Yes, for sure. But if you can try and go during the week because the weekends are so packed. People come from all over just for it.


What’s the place serving up the weirdest or interesting menu? Hmm, I’d say Sanchez Bistro has a very interesting menu featuring Mediterranean and Spanish dishes.

Would you say it’s an expensive town? Like parking, price of a coffee? Drinks are very expensive downtown, and parking can be too, but I think it’s cheaper than going to downtown Detroit. Overall, I think it’s pretty average for a downtown.

What cities, places or destinations are “worth the drive” outside of Grand Rapids?

Grand Haven is about 40 minutes from Grand Rapids, which is definitely worth the drive, there are tons of things to do there. It’s got a beautiful beach, Lake Michigan…

Holland is also worth the drive because there is an amazing state park there.

Whitehall is actually really cool, and not a lot of people know about it. It feels like a little cape cod town or east coast town but on Lake Michigan. It’s worth seeing.

Allendale is about 20 minutes west of Grand Rapids, where Grand Valley State Univeristy’s main campus is. There’s lots to do there, like the Farmhaus Cider Co!

Mandy took us to Farmhaus Cider Co. on Friday night! We shared a couple flights, and loved their unique cider! They had this awesome outdoor area, complete with lights, giant Jenga, and board games. Next year they will open an indoor seating area too, with plans to open a restaurant in the future. Check them out here!



Anything else to do or see in downtown Grand Rapids? 

Well, see a show at De Vos! It’s a smaller theatre so every seat is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand River is the center of the city, and it definitely is the heart of the city.  There is a blue bridge that goes over the river, right in the middle of downtown. It’s the Grand Rapids icon, and it’s lit up at night. It’s one of those sights you should see, and it has a great view of the skyline.

Fish Ladder Park is a park where you can watch fish jump up the river. John Ball Zoo is right in the city, that’s pretty cool, too. There’s so much to do, I have to stop because I could just keep going.

Thanks Mandy, you were the best GR tour guide! 

Wander On,

*This post contains affiliate links. That means, I may receive a commission for some of the links in this post- at no cost to you. See our Disclaimer page for details*

 

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